|Listening to God|
President FD Roosevelt got tired of the many White House receptions where all he did was smile his famous big smile and utter the usual banalities to the awed guests. One day he decided to find out whether anybody was listening and paying attention to what he was saying. As each person came up to him with extended hand, he flashed his smile and said to them ‘Good evening, I murdered my Grandmother this morning.’ People would automatically respond with comments like ‘O, How lovely’ and ‘Good, I hope you continue in your great work.’ Nobody listened to what he was saying except one foreign diplomat. When the President said ‘Good evening, I murdered my Grand-mother this morning’ he replied softly ‘Well, I’m sure she had it coming to her!’
This story well illustrates the fact that hearing someone speak is not the same as listening to what they actually say. The difference is crucial especially if the Person who is speaking is God or God’s representative or any means of grace available to us.
For this reason alone we need to understand what we mean by listening? How is it different from hearing?
a] To concentrate on hearing something. To focus attention, as in tuning into a radio programme. To tune in to someone’s wavelength. Not just background music but a careful listening to a particular programme.
b] To take notice and pay attention as in ‘Jeff begged her to reconsider but Jill wouldn’t listen’.
c] To be alert so as to hear. He’s all ears or she keeps her ear to the ground. Listen did you hear that?
a] To receive communication and information as in ‘I heard about your problem, Roy’. Or as in ‘Hear, Hear’ = used to express understanding and agreement.
b] To listen formally as in ‘The priest heard her confession’.
c] To listen attentively as in ‘I really hear what you say’.
They have many similarities and yet real differences. If I say ‘Can you hear? It is very different to ‘Are you listening? All of you can hear what I am saying right now but that doesn’t necessarily mean that you are listening to what I say. When this is applied to listening to God, hearing God’s heart, it is vital that we learn to listen.
To complicate matters further the Bible words for ‘listen/hear’ are one and the same and they also include the element of responsive obedience. The Greek word ‘hypakovo = to listen, to obey. Jeremiah 6:10, Matthew 7:24-27, John 8:43-49, James 1:22-25. Also in many Parables and in the letters to the Seven churches we read ‘he who has an ear to hear let him hear’. John Powell writes, 'The most serious obstacle to a life of faith is 'inattention.' Esther De Waal says, ‘We are not being truly attentive unless we are prepared to act on what we hear. If we hear and do nothing more about it, then the sounds have simply fallen on our ears and it is not apparent that we have actually heard them at all.’
A good illustration is captured in Isaiah 6. The prophet is walking close to God, so that he overheard the Conversation of the Trinity. He was listening with the heart and was able to respond in obedience. ‘Who will go? Here am I, send me!’ It’s not so much the place where you are, as your presence in that place. Not the actual situation you find yourself in but whether you are alive to that situation. Availability is obedience. Working hard where you are, whether helpful or horrendous, instead of always wanting to work wonders elsewhere.
So then listening means being alert, observant, and perceptive to what is going on within us and around us. It is not a passive thing but a conscious, willed action to focus attention. We listen - to learn - to live!
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